The Kepler orbiting space telescope rocked astronomers in early December 2011 by detecting the most earth-like planet ever discovered.
Thrilled scientists said the planet named Kepler-22b may have oceans, large land masses—even support life.
What makes Kepler-22b especially exciting to astronomers, astrophysicists and exobiologists? The planet is the first discovered that has an earth-like temperature (about 70 degrees F) and is orbiting within the habitable zone of a star like the sun.
Although Kepler-22b is roughly twice the size of Earth, life similar to Earth’s could exist there.
Within the ‘Goldilocks zone’
The holy grail for astronomers is the existence of planets that fall within their “Goldilocks zone”—the worlds are neither too hot, too cold, too massive or too small. Kepler-22b is almost smack in the middle of the Goldilocks zone and because of that is is a prime candidate for life.
Although thousands of planets have now been discovered by NASA’s space telescope, Kepler-22b—located in the sky near the Cygnus and Lyra constellations—orbits a star that’s about one-quarter as bright and slightly smaller than the sun. Other factors that place the planet inside the life conducive Goldilock’s zone include its orbit of 290 days and its distance from the star: about 15 percent closer than the Earth is to the sun. Yet because its star is burning cooler the climate on this alien world is still falls within the range of a shirtsleeve environment.
We live in a universe crowded with life
The Kepler space telescope, named after German Johannes Kepler who paved the way for Issac Newton with his laws of planetary motion, was launched by NASA to track more than 150,000 stars watching for telltale signs of planets orbiting them.
Dr. Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, who assisted in the astonishing discovery told the UK Independent, “This discovery supports the growing belief that we live in a universe crowded with life” Boss said a full report on Kepler-22b will be appearing in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
US military pays SETI to check Kepler-22b for aliens
While Kepler-22b is not exactly a next door neighbor—the possible Earth twin is about 600 light years distant—the US military has added it to their ongoing “Space situational awareness: program and earmarked part of their SETI [the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence] funding to seek any intelligent signals from the faraway world.
Think tanks, intelligence agencies and the Pentagon have ruminated for years about life beyond the solar system, especially intelligent life. They, like famous physicist Stephen Hawking [[Stephen Hawking argues against the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence], worry that some of that life may not be friendly.
The military would prefer finding them before they find us.
NASA Kepler-22b — Comfortably Circling within the Habitable Zone